Woman Scientist of the Month: Mineke Bosch (11/2019)

Every month EPWS interviews a distinguished woman scientist in 10 questions.

In this section, we are interviewing European women of various ages and disciplines, recognized by the scientific community for their achievements, who are also concerned by the gender-equality goals of EPWS. They are true role models and a source of inspiration for the future for other women scientists.

Read all the Interviews here

This month EPWS gives the floor to Prof. Mineke Bosch. She is Professor of Modern History at the Faculty of Arts, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

EPWS: What made you want to go to science? How did you decide to choose your discipline and your particular field of research? Did you have an inspiring model (parent, relative, teacher, literature, etc.)?

I have always been an avid reader and I just knew I wanted to go to the university. My first choice was chemistry, even though I knew I also liked philosophy and history. But that I thought I could do at home, whereas for chemistry one needed a laboratory. In my first year, however, I discovered I did not really like the precise practical work, and after reading James Watson’s autobiography on the discovery of the double helix, I decided to switch to history. Interestingly, I liked the book and did not notice his sexist treatment of Rosalind Franklin then. It was in 1973 (I think), two years before the UN’s International Women’s Year.

Bosch lectures at the celebration of the Centenary of Dutch Women's suffrage at the Groningen Museum, May 9th, 2019. (Groninger Museum)

What do you work on? How important is your research topic for science development or society?

This last year I made a large national exhibition and a book on the struggle for women’s suffrage in the Netherlands and internationally that attracted 120.000 visitors from all over the country. My aim was to have this immensely important historical story included in textbooks for secondary schools and universities, or at least, to make it into a self-evident part of the history of the Netherlands and to raise what I have come to call ‘suffrage literacy’.

Before that I was involved (and will be again) in the study of gender and scientific persona, in which I analyze the way in which scholars and scientists ‘perform’ as scientists and scholars in order to make themselves recognized as reliable representatives of science and the humanities.

Procession at the occasion of Bosch' inaugural lecture and the opening of the Wiser Conference at Maastricht, October 4th, 2007 (Robertine Romeny)

EPWS: What is your greatest success as a researcher (and as a teacher if you teach), the one you are most proud of?
Could you share the memory of a great personal satisfaction during your research career with us?

If success is defined by media attention for my work, it definitely is the work I did for the exhibition and accompanying book… But I do value smaller moments of satisfaction perhaps even more, such as when students express their thankfulness for what they learned, or when one of my article or book is cited in an article or book I admire.

Could you share the memory of a great personal satisfaction during your research career with us?

My greatest success was the exhibition “Struggle: 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage”, and the accompanying book, which together had an enormous enthusiastic reception and a great spin off.

Introduction room with painting 'De suffragettes' door Marinus van Raalte [1913] (Groninger Museum)
Banners room at the exhibition Struggle. 100 Years of Women's Suffrage (Groninger museum)

EPWS:In which country/countries have you been doing research?

I have been doing research in various archives in the US, Great Britain, France, The Netherlands.

EPWS: What is your agenda for the coming months?

My agenda consists of supervising eight PhD students,  two of whom are earning their doctoral degrees in December 2019 and January 2020. I am also member of a PhD assessment committee at the Central European University and will attend the promotion in January in Budapest. Besides I have a research course to teach, I have many lecture engagements and the deadline for an article in November. Moreover, I am editing a volume of L’Homme. Europäische Zeitschrift für feministische Geschichtswissenschaft on the various national commemorations of the centenary of women suffrage in Europe and the United States, for which I have to write a contribution and hold an interview with a colleague in the United States.

Cover of the book published at the occasion of the centenary of Dutch Women's Suffrage

Did you meet any barriers (personal/social/structural) during your career as a scientific researcher? Did you benefit from mentoring?

I met many barriers during my career, a long time ago, but also very recently. I did a lot of mentoring myself, but nevertheless…

What is the situation of gender equality in your working field? In the countries where you have been working, were there gender equalities policies and did you experience their effects?
What do you suggest for a better implementation of gender equality in science?

There is still far from gender equality in our field. As I am a bit older, I did not myself profit from systematic gender equality policies, although in my appointment as Professor of Modern History the fact that I was a woman played a positive role (but my appointment was compensated for almost immediately with the appointment of a male professor, so to speak, at the same chair, which made my position complicated).

For a better implementation of gender equality in science:

  • Gender policies should be continuous and systematic, and supervised by a university wide policy body.
  • Gender policies should be about ‘women in science’ and ‘gender in science’.
  • Special programs for appointing women professors are the most helpful, but should be monitored.
  • Appointed professors should always come from another university, or at least have worked elsewhere in the last 5 years
  • The appointment committee should always have a 40% minimum of women members (student members not included).
  • etc.

Did you experience networking between women scientists? Can you comment your answer and explain why yes or not?

As I have always been involved in gender studies and science and gender policies, I have always been active in women’s networks. In particular I served in the EPWS founding Board of administration and was its first treasurer; now I am an EPWS individual supporting member.

If you could start again your life, would you choose again to be a scientist? What would you change?

I really don’t know.

Could you leave a message to young European women scientists?

Do discuss with women’s scientist peers the experiences that you have in your career. Ask questions about what surprises you or strikes you as questionable. Learn about the impact of gender on perceptions of women and men, their qualities and behaviors. Celebrate your successes, learn from your mistakes, try to keep your curiosity.

Favourite Links:

https://www.groningermuseum.nl/en/art/exhibitions/strijd-100-jaar-vrouwenkiesrecht

http://www.soomolearning.com/suffrage/ Bad Romance Women Suffrage

www.youtube.com/watch?v=35FwmiPE9tI : Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson & Crick – Science History Rap Battle